Few students are fortunate enough to have the hard work they produce in the classroom recognized outside of class — but junior Catherine Coffey and senior Jennifer Shadle were officially acknowledged for their theater accomplishments earlier this month when they won awards at the American College Theater Festival.
“You can do stuff that’s great in the classroom, but nobody cares outside the classroom,” Professor of Theatre James Brandon said of the recognition. “The people that are judging this are professionals, so it really is a nice stamp to see.”
ACTF, a national organization run out of the Kennedy Center, has annual competitions in eight regions throughout the country. Hillsdale theatre faculty and students attend the Region 3 competition, which was held this year from Jan. 6 – 11 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Both Coffey’s and Shadle’s awards were in dramaturgy. Dramaturgs form a link from the playwright and script to the production team. They do conceptual analysis, literary work, and research in order to produce information such as program notes and background information for the actors and director.
According to Brandon, Coffey has good reason to be particularly apt at dramaturgy.
“She’s a dual major in English and theater, so she has a really strong literary background; she sees things the way a literary scholar would see them,” he said.
Coffey won in the category Critics, Dramaturges, & Scholars for a project she had prepared in Brandon’s dramaturgy class last semester on the play “August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts. She was judged on written work she had emailed in beforehand, such as a playguide giving a biography of the playwright, a glossary of the play’s terms, and character profiles. At the actual event, she and the other competitors had to set up lobby displays featuring their work and gave a five-minute presentation.
“I saw all these fantastic lobby displays, and here I am putting up things with twine and clothespins,” Coffey laughed. “Literally, I used a trash bag. It ended up looking like a country curio shop when I was done with it.”
Despite her nerves, Coffey won and now has the chance to go on to the national level of the competition in Washington, D.C., in April. After each of the other eight regional competitions have selected finalists, four will be chosen to continue to D.C. Coffey is waiting to hear if she is one of the chosen four.
Shadle also won an award for her work in dramaturgy, though her category, Design Storm, does not have a national-level competition. Shadle worked with a team of other students from other schools in Region 3 to present a concept for the play Sweeney Todd. Each member of the team had a different role, such as director or set designer, and Shadle was the dramaturg.
“The most fun part about Design Storm is that you’re working with other people you don’t know from other schools,” she said, adding that her team worked together magnificently. “I’ve never had collaboration like that.”
Over the span of four days her team met together to prepare for a five-minute presentation for the judges of their work, but didn’t find out they’d won until the festival’s final awards ceremony.
“It’s always tricky because everyone’s spread out when they announce winners,” Shadle said of the moment her team realized they had won. “We all just ran like little children into the lobby of the place and we did this little group hug.”
Even if they hadn’t won recognition for their work, both Coffey and Shadle agree that the experience of ACTF itself is rewarding.
“I think it’s a good way to kind of pump us up for the next semester,” Shadle said. “I know that at the end of ACTF I was like, ‘Man, I’m pumped to work on Drowsy Chaperone!’”
Hillsdale can be excited too — the college gets to reap the benefits of having award-winning dramaturgs work on theatre productions right here on campus.